‘Memory Jars’ Are A Simple And Amazing Family Activity

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
nastenkapeka / Getty Images

I’m not a crafty or Pinterest-y mom by any means. I’m just not that artistic myself, and anything that adds more work to my life – and specifically more mess – is a big fat NOPE. However, I’m sentimental AF, and I love any opportunity to take stock and reminisce. So when I came across the idea of keeping a “memory jar” a few years back, I was all in.

What’s a memory jar, you might ask? Well, it’s just as simple as it sounds. You take a jar (we used an old spaghetti sauce jar because we are clearly hella fancy), and then you spend a year filling it with handwritten memory notes. At the end of the year, you open up the jar, read off the memories, and it’s a blast.

My family and I did this two years in a row and I will give you my super-honest take on the whole experience. First of all, it really is that freaking simple in terms of craftiness skills. Yes, you can go out and buy a cute mason jar. You can decorate the jar in some gorgeous, Instagram-ready way. You can make flower-pressed notes and use an ink-dipped pen.

But like I said, we used a washed out tomato sauce jar. Then we found an old stack of post-it notes, and plopped them on the kitchen counter along with the jar. We tried to keep a pen nearby, but we kept losing that. Obviously.

As for what to put inside the jar and how often to do it, that’s totally up to you. I’m pretty sure we set out to write notes weekly, but we definitely slipped after a few week, and by the end of the year, we were only writing the notes every few weeks, throwing in multiple notes at once.

But the cool thing is that it didn’t really make a lick of difference. We still enjoyed the project and the benefit was the same at the end of the year, as far as I can tell.

In terms of what kinds of things to write on the notes, that’s totally up to you. The first year we did it, we decided we were going to focus on gratitude. We wrote “One Good Thing” on a post-it and taped that to the jar as a reminder of what we wanted to focus on. I’d read the research about the benefits of practicing gratitude, and I thought it would be cool for my family to focus on that as a unit.

Basically, the idea is that if you make it a practice to notice and record things you are grateful in your life, you will feel more gratitude overall, and become more aware and appreciative of when things are good. I definitely experienced that the year our family kept the memory jar.

The kinds of things we decided we were grateful for were sometimes the most materialistic things in the world, like when the kids got a new gaming system. But we also recorded stuff like the day the kids played together all day without fighting. Or that Saturday night we made brownies together and almost burned them, but didn’t, and they were oh so yummy.

Often, I’d hear the kids say stuff like, “Oh yeah, this should definitely go in the memory jar, shouldn’t it?”, which I loved because it showed that they were engaging in life in way that they weren’t before – taking constant note of what was good around them as it was happening. Really amazing.

Of course, the biggest payoff with the memory jar comes at the end of the year, when you get to open it up and do your reminiscing. We made this part of our New Year’s eve tradition. We’d get all cozy on the couch, pop some sparkling grape juice (pretty sure this is my kids’ favorite part of the evening), scroll through the years’ photos on our computers, and read off memories from our memory jar.

It would take up to an hour to go through all the memories, because we weren’t just reeling them off, but actually taking some time to discuss and reminisce. Stories would be told. There were times we’d laughed so hard our cheeks turned red. And often, memories that we hadn’t even written down would come up.

It was just a ton of fun, my favorite New Year’s eve tradition by far. And just so dang easy – and actually a really awesome experience throughout the year as the memories were compiled.

I will be totally honest with you, though. We didn’t end up doing a memory jar again this year. By the end of the second year, I think some of the novelty had worn off. And, as you can imagine, most of the work ended up falling into the hands of the parents (errr, mom), at which point we decided to nix it.

However, now that the year is winding down my kids and my kids are planning how to spend New Year’s Eve, I’m starting to regret that we didn’t do a memory jar this year.

But maybe, like all good things, we needed a break from it to realize how much we loved and needed it. And if we take up the practice again this coming year or the next, it will be fresh and new and that much more wonderful. I can’t wait.

This article was originally published on